England boosted against Wales by Bale’s absence

CARDIFF, Wales - The bulk of England’s fears about facing Wales disappeared when Gareth Bale was ruled out of Saturday’s 2012 European Championship qualifier with hamstring troubles.

By (AP)

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Published: Fri 25 Mar 2011, 7:21 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 7:15 PM

The Wales winger’s pace would have posed the most potent threat to England — particularly right back Glenn Johnson, who has said “it is difficult to say how you stop Gareth Bale.”

“The news about Bale is good for us,” England goalkeeper Joe Hart said of his rival’s absence. “He is one of their best players. No one wants to see him getting hurt or injured of course and I am sure they will have someone ready to come in a fill his shoes, but they are pretty big shoes to fill.”

Bale has been the subject of high-priced transfer rumors since his performances against European champion Inter Milan helped Tottenham progress in the Champions League.

Bale’s absence should allow England to push forward in a more adventurous manner, with the need to stop the man that England coach Fabio Capello described as “the No. 1 player in the world” removed from the game plan.

“Any team in the world would miss a Gareth Bale,” Wales coach Gary Speed said. “We know it is going to be difficult. England are full of good players. We are not going to say we are going to win it, but we believe we can.”

Wales, though, has lost all three matches in Group G so far and hasn’t beaten England in 27 years — losing both matches in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in their only meetings since 1984.

And in Speed, Wales has one of the least experienced men in charge of an international team. After just 18 matches at Sheffield United — his first managerial job — Speed was lured to Wales in December to replace John Toshack.

On Thursday, Speed chose a relative novice as captain: 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who hasn’t played for Wales since November 2009 due to injuries.

“Some people are going to disagree with (the decision),” Ramsey said. “It’s come at such a young age ... I’m not a screamer and shouter but I’m not going to change the way I am.”

While Wales has its youngest-ever captain, England’s armband has returned to veteran John Terry.

In a bold move last February, Capello stripped Terry of the captaincy after being presented with newspaper allegations that he had an affair with teammate Wayne Bridge’s former girlfriend.

Despite condemning Terry at the time as being a bad role model for youngsters, Capello has reinstated the Chelsea captain due to ongoing injuries problems for Rio Ferdinand.

“It’s getting the publicity it probably deserves, but now it’s been sorted it’s probably time to move on,” England midfielder Gareth Barry said. “We feel comfortable with John being captain. He did a great job before and I’m sure he will again. I think if someone felt that strongly about it, I’m sure they would have spoken up.”

Terry, however, said he believes that he will be blamed if England slips up at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

England is second in Group B after a draw in October with leader Montenegro, which is three points ahead after playing an extra match.

“The 0-0 draw at home to Montenegro wasn’t perfect but, if we can get a good win on Saturday, the confidence and belief will still be there,” Barry said.

A big decision for Capello is who to start up front alongside Wayne Rooney.

Despite scoring 22 goals in 42 England appearances, Peter Crouch isn’t a regular starter, while Tottenham teammate Jermain Defoe has been misfiring for his club. That could leave Darren Bent and Andy Carroll vying for a starting spot.

“He puts his head in where others wouldn’t,” England winger Ashley Young said of Carroll. “But he’s not just a target man. He’s quick, has good feet and is basically an all-around striker.”

In central midfield, Jack Wilshere is set to make his first competitive appearance, with West Ham’s Scott Parker being tipped to push Frank Lampard out of the starting XI.

“He is at the top, not only in England but Europe and the world,” Capello said of Wilshere. “He is good because he plays without fear, with confidence, and also for someone so young, he is a leader.”

At the back, Capello will have to decide whether Michael Dawson or Phil Jagielka partners Terry in central defense.

Goalkeeper Scott Carson was called into the squad after Ben Foster was ruled out with a throat infection.

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